You are in a richly varied mess, true enough. But, much as I like you, I am clear-eyed enough to see that it is the outward and visible reflection of the inward and invisible mess which is your soul.
What fascinates me is Davies’ reversal of a very traditional definition of a sacrament: an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. Christians have always known that what Christ does for us by grace, deep inside in hidden ways, is expressed outwardly in the physical drama of the bread and wine or the water of baptism.
Davies offers us the idea that the opposite, coming from the opposite direction, is possible too: whatever brokenness we hide from the world, whatever damage our bad choices have made inside, all will find their own analogous ways of showing up in our outer lives.
It is a call to compassion, in a way. Instead of just condemning someone’s annoying habits or self-referrential narcissism we might consider the “inward and invisible mess” that these things express.
More importantly it is a call to look at our own lives. It is easier to try to correct the outward bad habits. Much more serious work is required to fix the inner mess that causes the outward.
This is what the Heidelberg Catechism calls our “misery”. Or rather it gives different words to what Heidelberg describes as the cause of the misery.
Question 4 of the Catechism summarizes God’s overall intention for human life: it is the two great commands Jesus quoted as most important, to love God with all our being and to love others with the same care we have for ourselves. Question 5 then asks if we can live up to this standard. The answer is startling:
“No. I have a natural tendency to hate God and my neighbor.”
Those are pretty shocking words to modern ears. We resist the accusation — hey we don’t “hate” God. We like God pretty well, actually. No, we love God; and we love a lot of people too.
The key is the actual nature of the standard, and the consequences of missing the mark. These two commands describe what Augustine calls the “blessed life.” They are not arbitrary commands that are there to make us feel guilty. They are the portrait of the only way human beings can live happily. Loving God above all things is how we were originally created to live, and nothing else will every truly fit. But the standard is extreme: love God, at every moment and in every way, more than you love any thing else.
Heidelberg is saying that anything that does not actually fulfill these commandments to love ends up looking like the opposite. Miss the target, a little to the left or right, a bit above or below, creates just a little bit of inward invisible mess. But, having missed, our lives keep traveling on, going farther and farther in the wrong direction. Something caused by the inward mess becomes outward and visible in what we might call “Davies’ Reverse Sacramentality.”
Or just plain misery.
- When have you seen outward messiness in life that you knew was a product of inner messes? (Fiction and film are fair game, as well as real life)
- When have you seen inner messes cleaned up, and what was the effect on outward messes?